Marcos is a 29-year-old entrepreneur from the small farming town of Mastatal. While the majority of his peers and family have relocated to the city of San Jose after high school in order to find jobs, Marcos has fought to stay in his home town. After a few unsuccessful career attempts (where he gained valuable trade and language skills) he believes he has finally found his calling in the eco-tourism business, working right out of his own home on his parents’ farm. He spends most of his time doing things he loves including bird-watching, meeting volunteers and guests from around the world who come to stay on his farm (we were some of those), building and landscaping, farming, and guiding tour groups around Mastatal and other regions of Costa Rica.
Marcos grew up on his parents’ farm in the small town of Mastatal, consisting of four or five locally-owned farms and, including a few of the smaller neighbouring communities, about 150 people. He spent most of his adolescent life helping his parents on the farm, milking and herding cows, managing a few horses and chickens, and growing produce including corn, beans and rice. Costa Rica is an amazing place to live in such a way – it seems that everything grows ridiculously fast, and cows and chickens are seen wandering pretty much everywhere. One of the coolest things we learned during our short visit to Mastatal was that all of the farmers in the country plant crops according to the lunar cycle. I’m not sure if they do this at home but it was the first time we’d heard about it.
Because Mastatal didn’t have a secondary school while Marcos was growing up, each day he and the other kids rode the bus for about 45 minutes to La Glora High School in a neighbouring town. Once finished high school, many of Marcos’ friends moved away to look for work, the majority finding themselves in the capital city of San Jose. This was not the life Marcos wanted for himself (fair enough, San Jose is a crazy place, interesting, but crazy).
Soon after Marcos finished high school, a professional carpenter came to Mastatal and trained Marcos and ten other students during a one-year carpentry internship. The group received on-the-job instruction while building the local community center. Although the training was valuable, Marcos soon found that in Mastatal he could not make a living at carpentry alone.
In 2002, La Cangreja National Park was created near Mastatal. This led to a local boost in eco-tourism, and around this time, a few local farms began offering volunteering and internship positions for travelers. Marcos saw an opportunity in this and started “Finca Siempre Verde” on part of his parents’ land. Starting with just a couple small cabins in the middle of the rainforest, Marcos and his volunteers have now built a two-story building including a large classroom / yoga studio, two large dormitories each with beds to sleep about fifteen, a private room (the “honeymoon suite” during our stay), and an area below for relaxing in hammocks. Pretty sweet place to stay!
As part of his eco-tourism offering, Marcos also recognized an opportunity to teach Spanish to English-speaking travellers. He received training and became a certified Spanish instructor, and has been teaching his guests (which included us for two weeks) for the past nine years. To further supplement his income from the farm, Marcos also works as a tour guide for groups of students from a few different Universities in Washington state, leading them on multi-week trips around the country and sharing with them his knowledge of the local culture and ecology.
Marcos’ passion for birding was quickly evident from his habit of stopping mid-conversation to eagerly point out some rare species of bird that happened to sing, fly by or stop to rest on a distant treetop. Apparently, his passion for bird-watching is not uncommon in the area: Mastatal is in a region of Costa Rica which boasts some of the best birding worldwide. On a three-week trip guiding a group up and down the Pacific coast, Marcos claimed to have seen over 300 species of birds!
Horseback riding is also among Marcos’ favourite activities, having ridden since he was a small child. In town, he often competes in a game called “carrera de cintas” where riders gallop under a tiny hanging ring and catch it on the end of a pencil-sized stick. Marcos also enjoys playing football (soccer) on the local team and watching the regional games twice a week on TV with his father.
Interview with Marcos
Note: the translations below might not be 100% correct. We did our best, any mistakes can be blamed on Marcos, our spanish teacher. =)
What do you think is the meaning of life?
DESPERTARSE CADA PODER ABRIR LOS OJOS Y PODER REALIZAR LAS COSAS QUE LE HARAN FELIZ - “To wake up, open your eyes and do what makes you happy”
VIDA ES PODER VER LO LINDO DE CADA DIA Y PODER DISFRUTAR CADA MINUTO DE EL DIA INDEPENDIENTEMENTE DE LO QUE SE ESTE HACIENDO - “Life is to be able to see the beauty of every day and be able to enjoy every minute regardless of what you are doing”
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
POR SUPUESTO EN EL LINDO PUEBLO DE MASTATAL CONTINUANDO EN LA FINCA GRECIENDO Y TENIENDO LA OPORTUNIDAD DE MOSTRAR A OTROS UNA MANERA DIFERENTE Y SOSTENIBLE DE VIVIR EN ESTE MUNDO. – “Of course, living in the beautiful town of Mastatal continuing to grow the farm and showing others an alternative and sustainable way of living in this world”
What do you love about Mastatal?
LA PAZ -LA TRANQUILIDAD -LOPURA VIDA DE LA GENTE – “The peace, the tranquility, and the pure life of the people”
What do you see as the biggest problem in Mastatal?
LA NECESIDAD DE TRABAJOS PARA QUE LA POBLACION NO TENGA QUE SALIR DE MASTATAL A OTROS LUGARES Y ASI CONTINUEN EN SU TIERRA – “The lack of jobs, forcing people to leave Mastatal instead of continuing to work on their own land.”
What would you do with yourself if your parents were to sell the farm?
MOVERME A LA CIUDAD TRABAJAR COMO POLICIA O CARPINTERO Y TENER UN GRAN NECESIDAD PERDIDA POR NO PODER REALIZAR UN SUEÑO – “Move to the city and work as a policeman or carpenter, and miss out on being able to realize my dreams.”
If you could travel to any place in the world, where would you go and why?
ME GUSTARIA IR A CUBA PARA PODER TENER UN EJEMPLO DE COMO ERA LA VIDA CUANDO IS PAPAS CRECIERO. TAMBIEN VIAJARIA AL AMAZONAS EN BRAZIL PARA PODER VER LA NATURALEZA ALLA. – “I would like to go to Cuba in order to see an example of how life was when potatoes/the pope was growing. Also travel to the Amazon in Brazil in order to see the nature there.”
What is your opinion of the growing tourism industry in Costa Rica?
ES BUENO SIMPRE QUE SEA EN FORMA SOSTENIBLE CON SEGURAS FORMAS DE CONTROL Y QUE SEAN FUENTES DE INGREASOS PARA LA POBLACION COSTARRICENSE. – “It’s good as long as it’s done in a controlled and sustainable manner and is bringing income for the Costa Rican people.”
Who were the coolest Canadians you have met?
COOLEST: YOU PLURAL (the two of us, of course)
COOL: A FRIEND COOL AARON & A FREIND 67 BETTY FROM CALGARY
Do you have any regrets?
NO SIMPLEMENTE EL NO PODER TENER LA FACILIDAD DE VIAJAR POR EL MUNDO PARA PODER VER NUEVAS COSAS PARA APRENDER Y PODER APLICARLAS EN MI VIDA Y PROYECTOS PERSONALES. – “Only that I haven’t the opportunity to travel the world, see and learn new things and be able to apply them to my life and personal projects.”
Thanks, Marcos, for the great experience & we wish you the best of luck in realizing your dreams!
Mandrew & Chelsea